The Mat Latos Evolution


Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Want to play a game? No, no, no. I’m not Jigsaw. I actually think you might like going along with this one.

Look at the following tables.

TW = team wins, TL = team losses, T% = team W-L%

Now, can you guess who is A, B, and C? You will definitely guess of the three solely based on the image at the top of this post as well as the post title. But which one is Mat Latos? And who are the other two? As you will see, this is a trick question.

Player A is Justin Verlander…over his first four full seasons. Player B is Mat Latos…and his first three full seasons plus 2013. Now, can you guess who is Player C? This is the tricky part.

Player C is pretty good pitcher, huh? Looks like a potential Cy Young winner, maybe even an MVP candidate, doesn’t he? That’s because Player C is both. Player C is Verlander once again, but this time, it is the same timeframe as used with Latos, last three full seasons plus his 2013 line.

Comparing players is such a tricky proposition, and I’m honestly not attempting to do that here. To me, there’s much more than simply looking at some numbers although some do go that route. Yes, there are other factors. If you think I’m comparing Mat to Verlander on the whole (no Goldmember jokes, please), I once again stress that it is far from my purpose here. This is more of a “look here” situation.

First, let’s look at those first two lines: Verlander’s first four full seasons and Latos’ first three full seasons, plus his numbers from this season.

Nowadays, it seems like that term “ace” gets thrown around a bit. Depends on the definition you are using. Merriam-Webster refers to an ace as “the best pitcher on a baseball team”. In this case, there are 30 aces in baseball. Not sure we would all agree with that assertion.

At the beginning of the month, Stuart Wallce from Beyond the Boxscore authored a fascinating look into the term of “ace”. It’s a lengthy read and uses sabermetrics. Even if you’re not a “fan” of such numbers, it is a read I highly recommend. Don’t head there just yet though…

We sometimes hear “experts” refer to Latos as an ace. Even seen a Reds fan or two – maybe even more – state this. The combo of Johnny Cueto and Latos have left more than a few to label them ace “1A” and “1B”. Does the fact that Latos’ numbers, in some manner, outshine those of Verlander’s over their first few seasons warrant such a label? These days, it certainly seems like it. Some might even move the “1A” label to Mat’s side of the ledger and away from Cueto’s.

Ah, Cueto. If I throw his numbers from his first four full seasons into this mix, he does quite well, but not as favorable.

TW = team wins, TL = team losses, T% = team W-L%

Now in looking at the addition of Verlander’s last three-plus seasons. The reason I included that line is merely to ask another question or two.

Again, I am by no means saying that Latos is currently on par with Verlander. Verlander owns a Cy Young, an MVP (which some still dispute) and a Rookie of the Year. The CY and MVP came back in 2011.

That all out in the open, is it crazy to think we can look for these numbers from Latos for the next four seasons? Well, unless something extreme occurs, we know Latos will be a Red for at least two more years, hopefully at least four. Still, that is a tough assignment.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

So, is Latos an ace?

I’m reverting back to Wallace’s piece. When you read it, you will notice the mention of Latos as it pertains to 2013. I will quickly take his 2013 and his ’09-’13 numbers and apply them to Wallace’s “formula” of determining an ace. You can decide if you agree or disagree with his take. Personally, I see nothing wrong with his criteria. Every last one has its merits.

Wallace’s factors are:
1. Having 3 or more plus pitches
Wallace utilizes Fangraphs and its PITCHf/x Pitch Values/100. He looks for pitches with a plus or higher than 0.0 value. For 2013, Latos does fit this criteria. Of the six pitches that Latos has used this season, he is above 0.0 with four of these : two-seam fastball (1.02), cutter (0.16), slider (2.01) and curve (1.03).

If you go through every season from ’10 to ’13, you will find that in each season, Latos has recorded at least three pitches deemed to be a plus pitch.

2. “FIPness” or usage of strikeout rate, walk rate, HR/FB rate and swinging strike rate.
Another chart for this purpose plus the “requirements” as defined by Wallace.

In looking at these rates, all seem in line for 2013 and for ’09-’13.

I will note that for each individual season, this would not apply as it does for this season. Mat did register walk rates higher than 7.4% in both ’11 and ’12 (7.8% and 7.5% respectively) as well as a HR/FB% higher than 10.7% in ’12 (11.8%). But if we take the averages (not a simple average, but actually determining the proper factors) over those seasons, they do lean in Latos’ favor.

Why these? Don’t walk guys or permit the long ball. Makes opponents miss your pitch and accumulate a fair number of whiffs. Seems fair.

3. Going the distance or durability and being a workhorse
Wallace introduces an equation here: IP – xIP ≥ 0, where xIP = games started * 7. I love the fact Wallace chose 7 as you would like you “ace” to give you an average of 7 innings per game started.

The results…

2013: 169-182 (GS = 26*7) is less than zero; therefore, Latos would not qualify under this.
’09-’13: 757.1 – 847 (GS = 121*7) is also less than zero, again, negating Wallace’s qualifications.

Again, using the formula of IP – xIP ≥ 0 and breaking down each year from ’10-’13, we are left with these numbers.

2010: -32.33
2011: -22.67
2012: -21.67
2013: -13.00

He’s certainly getting there.

Some would point to the fact that Latos has recorded only one season with 200+IP as a reason we can’t attach the “ace” label just yet. All he needs is 31 innings this season to go back-to-back seasons with 200+IP.

Based on 33 starts, the same as he stated in 2012, Latos would need a total of 231 IP in order to have the equation arrive at a zero. He has 26 this season and would need to hurl a completel game in every single last start to achieve a zero. Well, darn close. Try 62 innings with possibly 7 more starts in the regular season.

Still, in all of this, we do see that while the “ace” tag may not immediately apply to Mat Latos, he is certainly working his way up to that status.